Last Updated S022021


Unit Name  Mass Transfer and Separation Processes 


Unit Code MPE502
Unit Duration 1 Semester

Master of Engineering (Chemical and Process)

Duration 2 years    

Graduate Certificate in Chemical and Process Engineering

Duration 6 months

Year Level One
Unit Creator / Reviewer N/A
Core/Elective: Core
Pre/Co-requisites Nil
Credit Points


Mode of Delivery Online
Unit Workload

10 hours per week:

Lecture - 1 hour

Tutorial Lecture - 1 hours

Practical / Lab - 1 hour (where applicable)

Personal Study recommended - 7 hours (guided and unguided)

Unit Description and General Aims

Mass transfer – the net movement of mass from a stream, phase, fraction or component to another location – is the underlying principle of all separation processes. It is fair to say that separation processes are the foundation of all chemical engineering industries – food, pharmaceuticals, speciality chemicals, hydrocarbons (including petrochemicals), and bioprocesses to name a few.

This unit will cover the study of mass transfer in terms of key separation processes and the associated equipment that is frequently utilised to perform this work.

Mass transfer occurs in many processes, such as absorption, evaporation, adsorption, drying, precipitation, membrane filtration, and distillation. The process of distillation will be discussed in depth as it provides a suitable representation of staged equilibrium processes in general.

At the conclusion of this unit, participants will have been imparted with knowledge of the practical application of mass transfer and separation processes, separation equipment, and the industrial uses of these associated methodologies.

Learning Outcomes

On successful completion of this Unit, students are expected to be able to:

  1. Distinguish between the different types of separation processes and determine the most suitable uses for each particular process;
  2. Demonstrate comprehension of the underlying mass transfer and Vapour-Liquid Equilibria (VLE) principles;
  3. Transfer and apply the knowledge of mass transfer principles and separation processes across various industries;
  4. Demonstrate familiarity with current industrial applications of separation processes including relatively newer separation technologies; and,
  5. Display sound technical communications skills in this area of expertise.

Student assessment


Assessment Type

(e.g. Assignment - 2000 word essay (specify topic)

Examination (specify length and format))

When assessed

(eg Week 5)


(% of total unit marks)

Learning Outcomes Assessed

Assessment 1

Type: Multi-choice test

Word length: n/a

Questions from the content covered over the first four weeks of instruction. This comprises the foundation of the unit material. 

Week 5


1, 2

Assessment 2

Type: Report (Midterm Project)

[This will include a progress report; literature review, hypothesis, and methodology / conclusions]

Word length: 2000

Topic: The student is to choose a problem – e.g. treatment of a quantity of wastewater by a biological process – and design a facility (concept level).

Week 9


1, 2, 3

Assessment 3

Type: Report (Final Project)

[If a continuation of the midterm, this should complete the report by adding sections on: methodology, implementation / evaluation, verification / validation, conclusion / challenges and recommendations / future work. If this is a new report, all headings from the midterm and the final reports must be included.]

Word length: 4000

Topic: Continuation of the topic from Assessment 2.

Week 12


1 – 6




1 – 6

Prescribed and Recommended readings

Required Textbook(s)

P. C. Wankat, Separation Process Engineering, Second edition or later, Prentice-Hall publications, Pearson Education, 2007, ISBN: 0-13-084789-5.

Reference Materials

The required text book provides a number of important references in each chapter. These references and those provided by the instructor will form the basis of reference materials. 

Additionally, a number of useful texts, peer-reviewed journals, and websites may be found online.

Suitable information may also be found through the following resources:

Software Reference Material

The software package you will be using would be an industry standard software such as Aspen Plus/HYSYS and this software provides a lot of reference material.  It would be worth getting familiar with the technical material provided.

Unit Content

One topic is delivered per contact week, with the exception of part-time 24-week units, where one topic is delivered every two weeks.


Topic 1

Introduction to Separation Process Engineering and Flash Distillation

  1. Rationale
  2. Concept of equilibrium and mass transfer
  3. Problem-solving methods
  4. Flash distillation
  5. Form and sources of data; representation of binary VLE
  6. Binary flash distillation
  7. Multi-component VLE and flash distillation
  8. Size calculation

Topic 2

Column Distillation

  1. Developing a distillation cascade
  2. Distillation equipment and specifications
  3. External column balances
  4. Internal balances
  5. The McCabe-Thiele Method
  6. Profiles for binary distillation
  7. Open steam heating
  8. General McCabe-Thiele analysis and other distillation column situations
  9. Limiting operating conditions
  10. Efficiencies
  11. New uses for old columns
  12. Sub-cooled reflux and superheated boil-up
  13. Analytical and graphical methods

Topic 3

Multi-Component Distillation – All Methods

  1. Calculation difficulties
  2. Profiles for multi-component distillation
  3. Matrix solution for multi-component distillation
  4. Component mass balances in matrix form
  5. Initial guess for flow rates
  6. Bubble point calculations
  7. Energy balances in matrix form
  8. Discussion


Topic 4

Multi-Component Distillation and Complex Distillation Methods

  1. Total reflux: Fenske Equation
  2. Minimum reflux: Underwood Equation
  3. Gilliland correlation for number of stages at finite reflux ratio
  4. Breaking azeotropes with other separators
  5. Binary heterogeneous azeotropic distillation processes
  6. Steam distillation
  7. Two-pressure distillation processes
  8. Complex ternary distillation systems
  9. Extractive distillation

Topic 5


Batch Distillation and Staged and Packed Column Design

  1. Binary batch distillation: Rayleigh Equation
  2. Simple binary batch distillation
  3. Constant-level batch distillation
  4. Batch-steam distillation
  5. Multi-stage batch distillation
  6. Operating time
  7. Staged column equipment description
  8. Tray efficiencies
  9. Column diameter calculations
  10. Sieve tray layout and tray hydraulics
  11. Valve tray design
  12. Introduction to packed column design
  13. Internals of a packed column
  14. Packed column flooding and diameter calculations
  15. Economic trade-offs

Topic 6

Economics and Energy Conservation in Distillation, Absorption, Stripping, and Extraction

  1. Distillation costs
  2. Operating effects as costs
  3. Changes in plant operating rates
  4. Energy conservation in distillation
  5. Synthesis of column sequences for almost ideal multi-component distillation
  6. Synthesis of distillation systems for non-ideal ternary systems
  7. Absorption and stripping equilibria
  8. Stripping analysis
  9. Column diameter
  10. Analytical solution: Kremser Equation
  11. Dilute multi-solute absorbers and stripper
  12. Matrix solutions for concentrated absorbers and strippers
  13. Irreversible absorption

Topic 7

Immiscible Extraction, Washing, Leaching and Supercritical Extraction

  1. Extraction processes and equipment
  2. Counter-current extraction
  3. Dilute fractional extraction
  4. Single stage and cross flow extraction
  5. Concentrated immiscible extraction
  6. Batch extraction
  7. Generalised McCabe-Thiele and Kremser procedures
  8. Washing
  9. Leaching
  10. Supercritical fluid extraction
  11. Application to other separations


Topic 8

Extraction of Partially Miscible Systems

  1. Extraction equilibria
  2. Mixing calculations and the Lever Arm Rule
  3. Single stage and cross flow systems
  4. Counter-current extraction cascades
  5. Relationship between McCabe-Thiele and Triangular diagrams
  6. Minimum solvent rate
  7. Extraction computer Simulations
  8. Leaching with variable flow rates

Topic 9

Mass Transfer Analysis

  1. Basics of mass transfer
  2. HTU-NTU Analysis of packed distillation columns
  3. Relationships of HETP and HTU
  4. Mass transfer correlations for packed towers
  5. HTU-NTU Analysis of absorbers and strippers
  6. HTU-NTU Analysis of co-current absorbers
  7. Mass transfer on a tray


Topic 10

Introduction to Membrane Separation Processes

  1. Membrane separation equipment
  2. Membrane concepts
  3. Gas permeation
  4. Reverse osmosis
  5. Ultra-filtration
  6. Pervaporation
  7. Bulk flow pattern effects

Topic 11

Introduction to Adsorption, Chromatography and Ion Exchange, and Other Separation Processes

  1. Sorbents and sorption equilibrium
  2. Solute movement analysis for linear systems: basics and applications to chromatography
  3. Solute movement analysis for linear systems: thermal and pressure swing adsorption and simulated moving beds
  4. Non-linear solute movement analysis
  5. Ion exchange
  6. Mass and energy transfer
  7. Mass transfer solutions for linear systems
  8. Review of thickeners and cyclones and processes within

Topic 12

Project and Unit Review

In the final week students will have an opportunity to review the contents covered so far. Opportunity will be provided for a review of student work and to clarify any outstanding issues. Instructors/facilitators may choose to cover a specialised topic if applicable to that cohort.

Software/Hardware Used


  •  Additional resources or files: N/A


  • Hardware: N/A